A metal bin, fixed to a buried wooden 4×4, marked my first allowable outdoor distance.
My grandmother had a straight-shot view of the paved one-lane driveway from her kitchen, where she made lunch for her daily wards (5-15 grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and other neighborly passerby’s).
“You can go outside, but not past Calvin’s mailbox.”
I put in many an hour hovering around the perimeter of that mailbox’s force field. But seeing as the street didn’t end at this grandma-made border, and there was at least 100 more yards of restricted territory to explore before the main road, the mailbox became my darkest adversary. Eventually, I broke free and explored the first 10, 20, 30 feet with the excitement of going farther than allowed. She must have caught me hundreds of times; but, I persisted.
Then, I met Forrest, Forrest Gump; and he could run. Far. He ran out of his driveway; he ran past the county line; he ran all over the country. Sadly, this classic character did not catalyst my running journey, yet.
For many years, our bike tires were imprisoned to my grandmother’s street. When we turned twelve, my grandfather took up bicycling in his retirement. So, in one of the most influential moments of my life, he actually took us with him down the main road. To the big hills, the creeks, and even other neighborhoods, he even let us ride to a gas station!
Eventually, my grandfather hung up his bike and we ventured out alone. Eventually, we rode to every nearby city, “JUST TO SAY WE DID”. But not only to brag to others of where we had riden, but to tell ourselves of how far we’d gone. To test our ability of riding to places we had only visited in cars before. We once even rode 30 miles to my other grandmother’s house, attempted to head home, ate too much at a Burger King, threw up Whoppers on the blazing mid-July Georgia sidewalk, and then were forced to ride home with our bikes in the back of my grandmother’s mini-van.
That feeling of taking things as far as possible never left me. It has been the propelling force behind a sizable percentage of my choices. In my late-teens and early twenties, we street luged. This involves building an over-sized skateboard with handles and foot pegs and riding down mountains. We rode our luge boards as far as possible, labeling our riders by how fast they had gone and by the craziest hill they had ever bombed. We scoured the state searching for large hills to race down. Whenever we built things, they always had to be bigger and better, forever striving for the upgrade to our street luge boards, potato cannons, and homemade Nerf guns. I think that part of me is what makes me a man (minus the Nerf gun stuff), or my obsession came from watching too many episodes of Home Improvement. “More power!”
So I face the unsatisfiable question, “why?”. For I know, if I see the finish line at the 35 mile race, training for a 50 miler will be on my mind, and a 100 miler after the 50, the perpetual adventure of asking “how far?”
My why is to tell the story to myself and others of what I endured, to use the accomplishment as a reminder in the hard times that things can be much tougher and that I’ve conquered challenges before and I will do it again, again, again.
When I set out on that 35 mile race, I will remember my story is not to be of a person with a DNF (Did Not Finish), but of someone who against pain, distance, and elevation (and snakes…) didn’t give up; just to see how far I can go before I puke up my veggie burger.